Metro Louisville

A Louisville Free Public Library program that’s been providing free wireless internet hot spots to residents with educational needs during the COVID-19 pandemic might run out soon.

LFPL announced Wednesday that it now has a wait list for anyone interested in obtaining a hot spot. Like the free hot spots Jefferson County Public Schools has provided to its students during the pandemic, the library’s program was funded through a federal grant from the Emergency Connectivity Fund. The grant allowed them to purchase 200 hot spots with wireless connectivity late last year.

Paul Burns, the Louisville Library’s communications director, said they’ve received over 200 applications for hot spots. But he said that doesn’t mean they are gone — yet.

“Sometimes what we see is people will apply, but they hit the submit button three or four times,” he said. “We have more than 200 applications right now, but they may not all be legitimate applications so that’s why we have the wait list.” 

Burns encouraged anyone who is still interested in receiving a hot spot to access educational materials or programs to go to the library’s new wait list page and sign up.

The Library’s hot spot program was set up in December and is meant to serve adult learners, or children who can’t access free internet services through their school district. It’s an extension of the work they already do, providing more than 700 internet-connected computers at library branches across Jefferson County.

“We have people coming in every day to use those,” Burns said. “Even if you have a phone, you’re not going to apply for a job on your phone, you’re not going to apply for government assistance on your phone.”

Residents who received hot spots are expected to return them by the end of June. Burns said LFPL now owns the 200 hot spots and will be looking for funding to keep the program going.

A 2020 report by the Greater Louisville Project showed that 1 in 10 households in the city have no internet access, and roughly a third don’t have access to high-speed internet. The Greater Louisville Project is a nonprofit civil organization that reports data on community issues.

Harrison Kirby, the organization’s data scientist, said having high-speed internet has become more important during the pandemic.

“Being able to jump on Zoom with people, being able to have several folks at home on the internet at the same time has become increasingly important,” he said. “It’s no longer the case that you just need to be able to check your email at home, but you also need to be able to video call.”

The problem is even more acute in Louisville’s low-income communities: Internet access for families living below the poverty line has been decreasing since 2013. 

The Greater Louisville Project also found geographic and racial divides in internet access. Roughly 63% of Black households have access to the internet, compared to nearly 80%of white households. Approximately 25,600 school-age children in Jefferson County do not have access to high speed internet, mostly in the West End and southwest Louisville. 

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL.